Alejandra Pizarnik: the myth of the great poet who announced her death in her notebooks

“I want you alive, donkey,” Julio Cortázar wrote to Alejandra Pizarnik in a letter dated September 9, 1971. The poet had told her before her about her life in a psychiatric hospital after a suicide attempt in a devastating letter: “I learn to live with the last waste. My best friend is an 18-year-old servant who killed her son “.

A frank friendship united the two Argentine writers since they met in Paris. It was maintained even when Pizarnik lost the original manuscript of ‘Hopscotch’, which Cortázar had put in his hands so that he could type it up and thus alleviate his financial difficulties. The chaos of Pizarnik’s papers engulfed ‘Hopscotch’, Cortázar claimed him and she avoided getting on the phone because she had no idea where he was. She ended up showing up. “The poetic power is yours, you know it,” Cortázar encouraged her in his letter.

But not even words could save her. On September 25, 1972, Pizarnik ingested 50 tablets of Seconal sodium. It was a death foretold even in his notebooks, where in recent times he scribbled revolvers and lethal combinations of drugs. He fulfilled “his textual destiny of him”, believe Cristina Piña and Patricia Venti, authors of ‘Biography of a Myth’ (Lumen), published on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of his loss.

against normality

Pizarnik followed the path of his admired cursed poets Rimbaud, Lautréamont or Artaud. For her it was not a literary affiliation or a question of aesthetics. “I don’t want to go any further than the bottom,” she wrote on the blackboard where she was rehearsing her poems shortly before taking her own life. Her rejection of the “world of bourgeois normality”, of any social convention, involved exposing herself to “extreme situations of madness”, maintain her biographers, who do not catalog Pizarnik’s obvious mental disorder.

Alejandra Pizarnik’s wound had appeared even before her birth, she believed, on that ship in 1934 when her parents were exiled from their native Ukraine –the current Rivne, Polish at that time– to Buenos Aires. Jews of Russian roots, they feared for their fate to remain in Europe, and rightly so: the rest of the family branches that did not flee fell victims of World War II or the Holocaust.

The girls grew up with a terror that led their sister Myriam to cover her head imagining that Hitler was coming to look for her, but in the bosom of a cultured family that soon prospered. Childhood friends remember Pizarnik as a talkative girl, with no notable features other than big green eyes and a certain theatricality. The turning point came at age 12, after contracting scarlet fever. The character of the adolescent Pizarnik is already clouded: self-hatred is awakened and she begins to write about death.

The adolescent Pizarnik looks fat and fights it with amphetamines, something not so rare in the 50s. She thinks she is less beautiful than her sister, less loved. She begins to provoke the self-righteous with a lewd humor and a quirky look, she reveres Sartre and the existentialists. She assumes the “Alexandrian character” that will end up devouring him.

After publishing that first collection of poems that he would deny, ‘La tierra más ajena’, Alejandra Pizarnik leaves for Paris, like so many Latin American writers of the time. There she publishes ‘Tree of Diana’, with a prologue by Octavio Paz, who helps her establish a relationship with the literary world and work as a proofreader in the magazine ‘Cuadernos’.

Pizarnik will interview Simone de Beauvoir and Marguerite Duras, who is surprised by how peaceful she seems to be with her life as a writer. And while she lives in filthy rooms, she has demonstrated her inability to hold down any paid job, the poet enjoys at times that Paris that, as Hemingway said, was a party. She gives herself over to the cultural environment, to drunken nights, to voracious sex with men and women. However, the dissipated life does not go well with the character of Pizarnik, who is so unstable. After four years in Paris, in 1964 he returns home.

Dread of old age and madness

Then came ‘Works and Nights’ (1965) and ‘Extraction of the Stone of Madness’ (1968), where he found his most personal tone. And his fascination with Erzsébet Báthory, who is credited with the death of more than 600 young people, who stars in ‘The Bloody Countess’.

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The recognition of his brilliant poetry comes with the granting of the Guggenheim and Fullbright scholarships, which he does not complete. She identifies with Lewis Carroll’s Alice and borrows from her “I just came to see the garden” as a verse: after the death of his father and the disenchantment of returning to Paris in 1969, he feels that his time in this world is over. With fear of old age and falling into madness, she decides to take her own life at only 36 years old.

During his very sad wake, at the Argentine Society of Writers, his friends were stunned. That night a girl arrived at the ceremony physically attached to Alejandra who also dressed just like her, with that Montgomery plaid, short hair and her own gait. After a first moment of awe they understood: it wasn’t her, but someone imitating her. the myth was born.

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